President of the History Society Jamie Lawless speaks candidly to Henry Lee about life in the public eye, ‘that ball’ in 2012 and how he’s got himself back on track in 2013 in his first public interview.
For a man with such responsibility on his shoulders, on first impressions Jamie Lawless has the demeanour of a man who is refreshingly laid-back and used to being grilled by inquisitive journalists and students. Being President of one the largest history societies in the University for two successive years would be quite a burden for even the most self-confident and gregarious of students, but Jamie assures me he was under no illusions as to the nature of the role when he took up the mantle of President of the History Society in in September 2011. ‘Sure, I was naïve and a bit green around the gills,’ quips the public-school educated Londoner, ‘but I was confident that I could step up to the plate and be pro-active about the issues which inspire students, as well as organise some cracking socials’.
Despite having only ten minutes in the man’s company up to this point, it is clear that entertaining and hosting is one of his fortés, as he pours me a generous helping of scotch and continues to reminisce about his early days as President, looking out from the first-floor window of his swanky Withington town-house. ‘I’d had a very successful first year socially in my sports club’, he claims, only furtively admitting this so-called ‘sports’ club be the Ultimate Frisbee Club when pressed on the issue, ‘and was sure my social skills would translate easily into the History arena. I’m not being arrogant but my public school charm went down well with the student body and it’s no coincidence that attendance for socials from female historians increased since they knew I was now part of the history set-up’. Indeed. I press a now grinning Lawless on whether he can name any one in particular, but he declines to answer, instead coyly responding that he is always private with these matters, and that most of the rumours connecting him romantically with a whole string of women in his second year are mostly ‘just paper talk’.
What is undeniable is the success of Lawless’ first term at the helm of the society, with some well-attended socials forming the bedrock of the university social calendar, often with an inebriated Lawless leading the revelry into the small hours. The zenith of this success came in January 2012, when Lawless led a sizable group of students to Berlin under the tagline – ‘Beers will be shed in Beer-lin’, which Lawless recollects as the apex of his achievements. ‘Those were some great days’, he chuckles as he returns to join me on the sofa, but then taking on a more serious tone, ‘the thing is I just got a bit caught up in it all. I wasn’t just President of History – I was the King!’
Indeed, perhaps one can trace the beginnings of Jamie’s testing 2012 to his over-ambition after Berlin. Quickly, sizable plans for a large history ball in the summer months were drawn up, with Jamie, of course, at the forefront of the preparations. ‘I was sure that I could use my BNOC (Big Name on Campus) status to organise a Ball that would go down in the history, no pun intended, amongst the student body,’ he quips, as he finally addresses the press on the subject for which he has been habitually reticent for months. And indeed the ball, dubbed the Night on the Nile, saw Jamie throw his public persona behind the advertising campaign, inexplicably drinking ‘Luxor Bombs’ on videos posted on Facebook and changing his often-viewed profile picture to a poster for the event, confident that this would be successful in attracting students to the event. However, flat-lining ticket sales, inducing a string of increasingly desperate emails to a once-adoring history student body didn’t quite have the effect needed, and the presidency of the society started taking a personal toll on the man. ‘Fast-food became a crux, I can see that now. I would come back from an unsuccessful day of ticket-selling and seek solace at the bottom of a family sized chicken bucket. It would fill a hole but I now realise that there was a different void in my life which needed filling’. His train of thought is suddenly distracted by the need to replenish his glass with more liquor, but anxious of time constraints and his rising blood pressure, I try to steer the conversation to safer waters.
After again assuming a sedentary position, I ask the still visibly emotional Lawless about his second year as President and ‘bouncing back’ in his third and final year. ‘I realised I needed to start connecting with my grassroots again and get back to the bread and butter of what a History President should be doing,’ he explains, ‘like meeting and greeting in the Library Café and making glib announcements at the beginning of History in Practice lectures’. After months of seclusion after the ball and an intensive weight-loss programme at Virgin Active over the summer months, it seems that Lawless is now ready to embrace his public once again. Now stretching out on his sofa with a refilled glass, he continues, ‘I’m happy to take a more back-seat role on the History Committee this year, acting as a figurehead and letting all the others do the actual work. I’m in a good place right now – and I don’t just mean in this luxury accommodation!’ I force a chuckle and probe him about his burgeoning use of social media to enhance the brand of ‘Jamie Lawless’. ‘Look, it’s just due diligence,’ he reveals. ‘Sure I add people on Facebook who I don’t really know, but they’re sure glad they know me now.’
It’s this magnetic confidence that makes Lawless such a charismatic character amongst History students and now, it seems, further afield as well. Now with the occasional game of Ultimate Frisbee as his only vice, as well as ‘the odd bottle’ of McClelland, he admits, it seems that Jamie Lawless is right back to his best in 2013. ‘I’ve still got so much to offer,’ he suddenly blurts out as he leads me to the door at the end of the interview. ‘Make sure you mention my charity work with women’s hockey!’ I assure him that I will do as I end my fascinating hour with our current President. Although I’m none the wiser as to what the hell he’s up to on Facebook these days, on thing’s for certain: Jamie Lawless is bouncing back in 2013.